Spout Mavens Disc #4: 13 Tzameti (2005)

About two days after I was halfway through my third, frustrating viewing of 13 Tzameti, I started having nightmares. Not the type of nightmares that leave you waking up -- cold sweat -- shaking -- whizzin' the bed, but the type where you wake up going, "What the fuck was that?" And the dreams had nothing to do with the ratcheted up gun violence in the center section of the film, where a high stakes daisy chain of pistol-packing morons blasting holes in each other's heads makes Hollywood positively cream over the thought of reaping even bigger profits than the illegal cash the winners in the film land by remaking 13 Tzameti in a country where professional football players can earn a little extra bling green via underground dogfighting, even if they occasionally have to kill an unlucky puppy by smashing its body into a wall. The dream actually involved a couple of incidental characters in the film: 1) a gangster named Jean-François Godon who overdoses early in the film in a bathtub, and whose death propels the main character into the game within the film, and 2) a toadie at the event named José who acts as both a source of enlightenment during the match for the main character, and eventually will also pose a minor threat to him later. (None of this gives away anything, and it doesn't matter anyway.)

The bathtub gangster appeared in my dream earliest, rising from his tub and telling me to fix the roof. Apparently, he thought I was the main character of the film, even though I was hanging out by a pool with my friends (and for those who know of my dislike of chlorine, they will know this is highly unlikely itself), his bathtub sat beside the pool, his naked, needle-jabbed gangster arm pointing at a sky which suddenly had a roof appear wherever he pointed, and always with a hole in need of repair in it. 'There... and there... and there..." For reasons only the dream makers understand, he disappeared, and suddenly my friends and I were climbing the outside of a skyrise to reach a mall on the top floor where we were to perform our Renaissance Fair puppet show -- and why we didn't simply take the elevator was never asked once as I can recall. The dead gangster in the bathtub never showed up again, and I will leave his strident call for roof-fixing to those who really give a shit about dream interpretation. I do not.

José, however, is another matter. He showed up the next night, though I believe he was not really José, but actually the Brazilian horror film legend Coffin Joe, whom I have been watching off and on in a series of films over the past couple of weeks, and with whom José shares a roughly similar beard and dark eyes. Not incidentally, Coffin Joe (and José) also reminded me a tad bit, via various features, of my little brother, the Eel. But it looked like José, including the sweater he wears in
13 Tzameti, and he was definitely not wearing a top hat or crazily long fingernails. José made a point of following me about for much of the dream, constantly trying to take things from my grasp and warning me to tip him, which would be a minute detail from 13 Tzameti. This night, though, instead of waking up and actually going, "What the fuck?," I merely resolved to not finish watching 13 Tzameti for the third time, and cease trying to determine what all the hubbub was about, Bub.

If I were to match up my opinion following 2-1/2 viewings of
13 Tzameti with that of my dreaded cover-judging curse that I inevitably fall into time and again, I would have to say that my feelings are just about at the same point as I expected them to be when the disc arrived in the mail at my abode. I am not one to shy away from gun violence in films: I watch an awful lot of westerns (Peckinpah, Leone and Mann are favorites) and my world would be nothing without Woo's The Killer and Hard Boiled and Tarantino's flicks, amongst others. I despise guns in real life, but I realize their practical purposes, and do not disparage those who wield them sensibly and by the laws of the land. Nor do I disdain hunting for food (though I do despise those who go trophy seeking). What I do tend to shy away from is this bullet-headed, pumped-up, Ultra-Xtreme world in which we increasingly find ourselves mired, where war and carnage are the only answer, diplomacy and understanding are tied to the tracks, attitude talks, and bullshit... well, it's what we are fed inside our fatburgers. And the cover of this disc, with its artfully arranged splatter effect and a shaved head bearing the title of the film, just shoved more of that crappy world in my face. To say I was reticent from the start is the mildest way that I can put it.

The pleasant surprise is that the film itself has far more in common with Melville or Dassin for large portions than it does with modern mega-mega-mega action. It's a black-and-white mood piece being sold with a UFC poster. Others have written here on Spout of the plot in detail, and while I don't normally care about spoilers nor worry enough to point them out to people when they are around the corner, with this film I feel that if one is to enjoy the story in any sense (outside of those who have boners for bullets smashing through a person's cranium), then the machinations of the characters surrounding of the game (as slim as they are) should be left to the viewer to discover, and not spilled carelessly about in a review. I don't often feel this way about a film all the way through, but this one depends on these minute revelations, even if none of them strike the viewer in any major way that one expects when told of the "twist" factor. That factor does not surface here; rather, the film is merely embellished by small, subtle strokes that add immeasurably to the flinty narrative. And I did get caught up in the story, such as it is, despite never really caring about the participants; that this film needs serious fleshing out will be readily apparent following the conclusion of the game, as the story loses its impetus quite swiftly afterwards.

But, story is not why people want to see this film, is it? They hear what is at the center of the film, and from there, it is equal parts morbid curiosity and primal bloodlust, which should be quelled for most once they find out that, while there is blood in the movie, it is in black and white. Sorry, red red krowy fans. You will find your color sense dulled. Roll your tongues back up until it rests against all of those cavities once again (and I don't mean the body ones, though I am sure there are some out there who won't have a problem with that...) It's all about the propulsive destructiveness of that massive cadre of guns, pointed at circle after circle of recidivist noggins (I assume, for the most part, except for our innocent main boy, that they are of the ilk). Some will feed off of the freak show quality of these scenes, and if you are the type, by all means, feel free to play along with the home version of our game. The world will be better off without you, and there are no consolation prizes.

Look, I love
Halloween, but I have no urgent need to see butcher knives being thrust into people's chests; likewise, Reservoir Dogs is a great, gory time, but I never once went through a day thinking, "You know, there just aren't enough films with people getting their ears cut off these days!" With the Carpenter flick, the appeal was a genuinely creepy atmosphere, teenage characters that talked like people I went to school with (possibly the first time I had seen that in a film at that age), and just enough cheesy acting to give it a sense of heightened reality, all directed by a guy who, once upon a time, really knew how build suspense. The Tarantino flick also had that heightened sense, though far less cheesy, some great dialogue, and some quite interesting characterizations. Both films, though I loved them, never got close to the real world. Even in the most frightening or shocking moments, my feet were still on the theatre floor, no matter how lost in their worlds I got. And no matter if the film is drowning in import, heavy-going drama -- in most cases, I am fully aware that everything is fine off the set, and that I am watching actors. They are still entertainments -- still just movies.

13 Tzameti, it's different. The world outside of the game, before and after, unfolds like the real world: dull, monotonous, a man climbing up and down a ladder or two and then back up again and then back down again. Despite the fact I don't know personally know or knowingly consort with gangsters or criminals, the world they inhabit feels like ours. Where the reality would seem to get heightened is at the game, but though its filming is bravura as a short segment and there is a considerable amount of suspense that builds around the shooting cycles, all I feel is that this could happen down the street in any neighborhood in the world, given the right circumstances. I'm watching heads taking bullets, bodies hitting floors, survivors shaking themselves out of stupors to sludge towards their dressing rooms to prepare for the next possibly fatal round, loading up on morphine to get them through what must be a severe mental pounding... and I can't handle it. I don't want to know it anymore. If I want reality, I will watch the local news and feel this bad. I'm certain things like this go on, perhaps even down my street, but I do not want to think about it. To me, the film eventually starts to feel like snuff... it's not snuff, but it feels like it. I start to worry about the actors, and whether they are actors after all. I think "Who is this director? I've never heard of him -- perhaps he really had these guys killed!" I become certain that Videodrome is real... I will have to admit the game sequence is fascinating to me, but it's nauseating at the same time, in a way that even the worst torture porn never makes me feel. And the surrounding storyline is not strong enough to remind me that this small portion of the film (though the selling point of it, perhaps tellingly) is just a movie. I get stuck inside the dreadful game.

After 2-1/2 viewings, I'm sorry, but that's how I feel. I will not be finishing it for the third time. And hopefully, I won't start dreaming about the fat guy who bends over all the time...


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